Taking Care of Yourself

Give Yourself a Break

Every single day you need to give yourself at least one break.

These don’t need to be fancy. When I was staying at my brother’s house early on, as we were trying to figure out what was happening and what on earth would happen next, I fell into the habit of taking a daily walk around his neighborhood. I cherished those walks, and I left the wretched cell phones behind when I went. (I had two, one a more-or-less-direct line to my sister.)

So take a walk, play tennis, or have your nails done. If you can’t manage anything else, lock yourself in the bathroom for five minutes.

Don’t feel the least bit guilty about treating yourself, even if it’s just a snootier candy bar, or the donut you know you shouldn’t have. Visit a museum or see a movie in the theater and spring for popcorn. Maybe you can’t fly to Bermuda for the weekend, but you can get a cup of fancy coffee, or go to the ball game, or visit a nearby craft fair.

Set up standard personal rewards, too. There may be days when the prospect of having that one special glass of wine or bubble bath or half an hour watching trash TV is all that keeps you going. Don’t deny yourself. 

Comfort Food

Sometimes all you really need is rice pudding, or meatloaf, or mashed potatoes, or hot cocoa. Chicken soup or a big bowl of noodles. Whatever works for you.


Almost everybody likes flowers, even hulking he-men with Harleys parked out front. They’re an inexpensive mood-brightener now found year-round in most major grocery and big box stores below the Arctic Circle.

Flowers are a great way to treat yourself to a reward that lasts for days and sometimes weeks. They’re also pretty cheap if you go with what’s in season. In fall, mums are everywhere, both cut and in pots. In December, pick up a bright poinsettia. In March, daffodils start showing up and by summertime, all sorts of things are likely to be blooming locally no matter where you live.

If you get something in a pot and eventually it dies, toss it with no regrets. It did its job or you wouldn’t have kept it around for so long.

Spritz Yourself

The spirit-lifting quality of fragrance hasn’t changed all that much since we were kids watching our parents put on Old Spice and Chanel No. 5. If you have a favorite fragrance now, dab on a bit occasionally or when you are feeling particularly blue.

Or you could go retro. I started thinking about the fragrances of my teen and college years and then asked for input from my Facebook friends. I got nearly two dozen different fragrance names, including a number I had forgotten all about but once owned and wore. Guys had less choice than girls back then, mostly limited to Canoe, Jade East, Hai Karate and English Leather. (“All my men wear English Leather, or they wear nothing at all.”)

The female fragrances that people recalled covered a lot of territory, and those with three or more mentions included White Shoulders, Jean Nate, Chantilly, Shalimar, Youth Dew, Muguet du Bois, Jungle Gardenia and Avon’s Hawaiian White Ginger. (“Bing, bong—Avon calling.”)

You might also look into reproducing other seductive smells of childhood, though I must caution that burning leaves outdoors is against the law in many places. And don’t forget incense if it once calmed you. Who knows? It could happen again.

One major caveat: If you are spending time around the patient, be sure that there isn’t any current sensitivity to scent. Many medications and treatments lead to queasiness.

If your spirits are lifted but your sister throws up at the first whiff of Shalimar, at best you are playing a zero-sum game.

Have a Cuppa

Remember that commercial from the Fifties which exhorted folks to “Take tea and see”?

I just searched on YouTube and discovered a heavy propaganda piece aiming to separate a manly man from his night-time cup of joe. The 1956 gem promised “The lift that leaves you with a nice warm glow.” It also pledged to put you right to sleep, which seems implausible given that this wasn’t any fancy herbal concoction, but almost certainly Orange Pekoe and loaded with caffeine.

In short, what Americans knew as “tea” until things started getting interesting in the late Sixties.

Having a cup of tea to soothe yourself is an obvious coping strategy. The Brits have done it since mastodons roamed the earth. Also it’s never been easier or offered more options. You can get tea harvested by monkeys if you’re so inclined, and maybe even specify the breed of monkey. If your needs are simpler there are dozens of options in any grocery store. Not to mention entire tea stores and kiosks at the mall even when it isn’t Christmas.

The microwave is fine for this unless you are extremely persnickety, in which case you are already brewing your tea in some more authentic and complicated way. Just make sure that after you brew that cup of tea you sit down somewhere and relax with it for at least five minutes.

Put On Your Own Mask First

You know how the flight attendant always instructs you to put on your own safety mask before assisting children or others around you? That’s also a perfect metaphor for how you have to integrate your life into the inevitable crises, surprises, and emergencies that so often are a part of caring for any loved one anywhere.

If you’re not operating at your best, nobody else will be either. Take care of yourself first. Period.